Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Hey Nostradamus!

Hey Nostradamus!
Douglas Coupland

First Sentence
"I believe that what separates humanity from everything else in this world -- spaghetti, binder paper, deep-sea creatures, edelweiss and Mount McKinley -- is that humanity alone has the capacity at any given moment to commit all possible sins."
Publisher's Description:
Considering some of his past subjects--slackers, dot-commers, Hollywood producers--a Columbine-like high school massacre seems like unusual territory for the usually glib Douglas Coupland. Anyone who has read Generation X or Miss Wyoming knows that dryly hip humor, not tragedy, is the Vancouver author's strong suit. But give Coupland credit for twisting his material in strange, unexpected shapes. Coupland begins his seventh novel by transposing the Columbine incident to North Vancouver circa 1988. Narrated by one of the murdered victims, the first part of Hey Nostradamus! is affecting and emotional enough to almost make you forget you're reading a book by the same writer who so accurately characterized a generation in his first book, yet was unable to delineate a convincing character. As Cheryl Anway tells her story, the facts of the Delbrook Senior Secondary student's life--particularly her secret marriage to classmate Jason--provide a very human dimension to the bloody denouement that will change hundreds of lives forever. Rather than moving on to explore the conditions that led to the killings, though, Coupland shifts focus to nearly a dozen years after the event: first to Jason, still shattered by the death of his teenage bride, then to Jason's new girlfriend Heather, and finally to Reg, Jason's narrow-minded, religious father. Hey Nostradamus! is a very odd book. It's among Coupland's most serious efforts, yet his intent is not entirely clear. Certainly there is no attempt at psychological insight into the killers' motives, and the most developed relationships--those between Jason and Cheryl, and Jason and Reg--seem to have little to do with each other. Nevertheless, it is a Douglas Coupland book, which means imaginatively strange plot developments--as when a psychic, claiming messages from the beyond, tries to extort money from Heather--that compel the reader to see the story to its end. And clever turns of phrase, as usual, are never in short supply, but in Cheryl's section the fate we (and she) know awaits her gives them an added weight: "Math class was x's and y's and I felt trapped inside a repeating dream, staring at these two evil little letters who tormented me with their constant need to balance and be equal with each other," says the deceased narrator. "They should just get married and form a new letter together and put an end to all the nonsense. And then they should have kids." --Shawn Conner, Amazon.ca (Published 2003)

Dear Reader,

Okay, I’ll admit it - I need to start writing my reviews earlier.  It’s easy to overlook them when you are reading multiple books at once.  It’s difficult to tie yourself into one book, one story, when you are reading several - but I prefer things that way.  Generally, my preference is to read one audiobook, one novel, one non-fiction book at once.  That has been slightly altered by the addition of netgalley, which means I am also reading an ARC on the Kindle at the same time.  So, needless to say, I am caught up in many stories, as well as in my own life.  I like it that way.  But it does make reviews more difficult, so I’ll try to keep on top of them in the future.

This book was so interesting to me because while Coupland wrote it in 2003, the central part of the story - a high school massacre - took place in 1988.  In Canada, too, where one doesn’t really imagine those things happenings (why? -- maybe it’s the universal health care and general contentedness of that country, which I’ve always believed in -- a beautiful place).  In any case, the massacre takes place in 1988: I would have been 7.  The high school massacre that stands out most in my mind is the one that took place in Columbine, in 1999.  So of course I drew connections while reading.  Of course it must have influenced Coupland, who wrote the book between the infamous Columbine and Newtown shootings.  So it certainly rang even more tragic with both in mind.  The book is told from the perspective of four people: Cheryl, who died during the school shootings; Jason, who had been her boyfriend and then secretly-married husband; Heather, who dates Jason later in life; and Jason’s father Reg, who finishes up the book in a brief section.  All play large parts in what I consider to be a story of Jason’s life, ultimately.

The story revolves ultimately around this couple who got secretly (and illegally) married in high school, when they were 17, in Vegas.  They were both part of a Christian club which condemned sex and intimacy before marriage, and therefore the two took a trip to the U.S. in order to use fake IDs to get themselves hitched.  While it was certainly a high school romance, it is one which Jason bases the rest of his entire life on: innocent, beautiful, unsullied love.  He doesn’t love again until Heather, who I truly believe he does have love for.  In the meantime, there is a whole mess of other messed up stuff that happens -- his father blaming him for murder (when he was in fact saving the rest of the school from massacre) and his sister-in-law later involving him in a plot which he spent the rest of his life paying for.  The book was intriguing and difficult to put down, particularly after the “Jason” section began.  The story of this poor boy’s tragic life echo into everyone else’s lives, and plays an important role throughout the book.  I really found myself caring for Jason, a poor boy whose life must have truly stopped once he held his dying wife in his hands in the high school cafeteria.  It’s no wonder that between that experience and his father’s unyielding belief in him (in his own awful way) that Jason never truly recovered from his seventeen-year-old experiences.  The book essentially revolves around this point in his life, for better or for worse.

And the characters are all so sad. Truly tragic figures, lonely to the core every one.  It’s an interesting study of very real humanity.

I think this was a good book, and I do love Coupland and his ability to write characters well.  I think I wasn’t sure how I felt about it as a whole, which is why I rated it at 3.5.  But I was struggling between that and a 4.  It is a very, very human story with very real characters.  My favorite part might have been the imaginary world of adorable creatures that Jason and Heather created and nurtured in order to connect to each other, and also insulate themselves from the rest of the world.

I look forward to reading even more Coupland. His books never disappoint.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks, A! Like I need another book to add to my list, and a sad one at that. But now I really want to read it. I imagine Shelf Notes will be dangerous for me!


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